Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thoughts of tunnel end lights

This past weekend we had a lunar eclipse, which was interesting. I think the one I saw here in the summer last time was more striking, since we’re used to the moon disappearing (just not that quickly), but seeing the sun dimmed for the first time was quite interesting.

Late last week I had to fix one project by shoveling off the top of a rooftop-high snow drift that had obscured its GPS antenna, so the time signal went bad and the controller unit shut down. Who would ever have thought that a pile of snow 12 feet tall could cause any problems?

We just received our airfare credit amounts for redeployment. You can use it straight-up to be taken back to the airport from which you originally deployed, or you can opt for “leisure travel” and revise the itinerary or totally do something different. You just have to use the company’s travel agent in Christchurch, and can use the equivalent dollar amount towards your new flight itinerary. Unfortunately for us, but good for the U.S. taxpayer, the contractor gets a really discounted fare because they book so many tickets. It seems like this is a major milestone, at least mentally, for wintering down here. You are presented with the prospect that at some point you will leave and go off to exotic locales, even potentially that elusive one called Home. It also presents a challenge because this turning of one’s thoughts elsewhere can also increase dissatisfaction with the all-too-familiar surroundings, people, and activities while still on the Ice. That this coincides, roughly, with what is known colloquially as “Cryin’ July” is probably not a coincidence at all. You just have to keep your perspective and maintain a firm hold on your mind game.
"Nothing is more important than that you see love and the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways."
~Fraa Orolo "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blue moon?

We now have a waxing moon here at the bottom of the planet, and its light brings a welcome change from the last several weeks of stumbling around in the dark. I was noticing the color of the moon on the snow today, and it sure looks blue to me...sort of. The landscape under that reflected sunlight, if photographed with a camera that can take a long enough exposure, will look pretty much like it does under direct sunlight. The snow reflects over 90% (i.e. has a high albedo) of the incident light, which helps make moon-up times such a welcome respite from the klutziness of the darker times.

It is also interesting to see how the drifting has developed over the last couple weeks. One drift out in the Dark Sector seems to have gone from knee to chest-high since I saw it last. I've been walking over it in the dark and could tell it was bigger, but I did not guess it would have experience such a growth spurt. The drift by the "vertical tower"/"beer can" of the Elevated Station keeps creeping closer to the building, and is currently pretty steep, which at least makes for a fun slide down, if the climb up is a bit more strenuous.

Today was a bit quieter than of late, which was pleasant. I made use of the lull to do some work writing in updates for more of my science project manuals. It is a big project, but one I could in no way fail to do, given how much help they can be in the turnover to an inexperience replacement. My early start on these documents will hopefully pay dividends in conserved sanity, via reduced workload, toward the end of the season.

"We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology."
~Carl Sagan

Sunday, June 20, 2010

To the solstice...and beyond

One week after finishing the last major repairs for one project, it suffered another, and a good amount of time this weekend was spent effecting the repairs. The part we replaced was buried amongst all those wires you see at the right end of the component. The close-ups show what eventually happens to metal when you run high current through it (probably arcing some) long enough.

Saturday night and Sunday night we watched "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight". In the few spare minutes I had today I made a little stencil and tricked out my work coat. Too bad it's not titanium reinforced carbon fiber, but it does the trick for the mean streets I have to walk.

Tonight we watch "The Shining", as per mid-winter tradition. I'll enjoy seeing a little glimpse of Glacier National Park as the VW Bug drives up past mountain lakes that are actually in Montana, not Colorado.
"It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me."
~Bruce Wayne, "Batman Begins"

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Sleeper Awakes!

Well, as I wrote previously, this has been a very busy time for this science tech/fire brigade lead at South Pole. Most folks think winter here is less busy than summer, and for most that maxim holds true. Well, having had a bunch of new projects to support given to me at the very end of the summer that has made that statement about placid winters even less applicable for my work.

A couple weeks ago I had a transmitter I support fry some components and wiring inside one of its seven amplifiers, and spent about 1.5 weeks rebuilding wiring and connectors before it was ready to be tested and put (successfully) back into service with the other six amps. Fingers crossed that the thing keeps working!

The fire brigade is gaining a new member, so I’m spooling up to get him through all the basic review training so he can respond to real alarms with us and join the on-call rotation. We recently had the drinking policy for the fire brigade revised to no drinking at all while on-call, which I totally agree with and was happy to hear come down from the Powers That BE in Denver HQ.

In the last week I had my birthday, which was only the second winter birthday I’ve ever had (being from the Northern Hemisphere). I got a few little gifts and many well-wishes, and even a birthday cake from the galley crew, which was nice. I hadn’t eaten any desserts since I was in McMurdo in October, but made a rare exception (my one instance for the winter) and had a piece of my own cake.

We are fast approaching the summer/winter solstice, and this Friday there will be the big Mid-Winter Dinner. I’ll probably take a rain check, since I don’t really dig those functions down here. I’m not sure what night we’ll have it, but Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” will probably be shown at some point over the weekend. That’s one of those Pole winter traditions that I can get behind. Last Sunday night we watched “Rocky” and had personalized commentary from one woman here who grew up in Philly and actually lived just around the corner from the pet shop that figured in the story fairly prominently, so that was interesting.

I keep hitting the gym 6 days per week, which is a nice stress relief activity. Still, with not so much oxygen and very little moisture here, one’s body doesn’t seem to be able to recover fully from exertions. I’m beginning to feel the real winter physical fatigue start to set in, which I’m sure is not helped by having worked at Pole (inside and outside) for 229 days straight as of this Monday.

But, slight indications of an end being in sight have started cropping up already. Last week we were asked by HR to verify whether or not our home airports on record with the company were correct, so they are inevitably starting to think about the whole airfare credit and travel options for us that will be redeploying from the Ice in several months. With mid-winter approaching, it is also the time of mid-season evaluations, which figure on how your performance bonus will shape up come the end of the season.

Really, there has not bee too terribly much of note here. A lot of spending a winter here involves just putting your head down, doing your work, taking as good a care of your body/mind as you can, and letting the weeks slip by.

“The value of self-government at an individual level cannot be overestimated.”
~BuSab Manual, "Whipping Star" by Frank Herbert

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


A confluence of work, satellite schedule, and utter fatigue in the evenings have conspired to make me a deadbeat blogger. I'll do my best to get something substantial put up on here soon. These 80-hour work weeks are not too conducive to doing much besides, well, working.